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Criminal Groups Internationalize Their Operations


August 1994

A number of articles have been written about the internationalization of organized crime groups. The creation of the European Union's single market and the end of the "Iron Curtain" has led to the erosion of borders and created opportunities for organized crime syndicates from Italy, Russia, South America and Japan to expand into new markets abroad (William Drozdiak, "European Unity - for Organized Crime," Washington Post, August 20, 1994, A20). As access to foreign markets increases, these groups are evolving into international corporations with wide ranging business interests.

With the emergence of a global economy, the syndicates are finding more opportunities to extend their operations and new methods to "launder" proceeds from drug smuggling and prostitution rings.

As the Italian government cracks down on the Mafia, jailing its leaders and investigating their operations, the Italian crime syndicates are moving abroad. France and other European nations are discovering that these crime groups are infiltrating their economies in ways that will be difficult to uproot. "The Mafia's penetration is no longer confined to here just to selling drugs," Claude Salavagione, the prosecutor in the Southern French city of Aix-En Provence, said. "They have managed to infiltrate themselves into virtually every sector of the economy."

In southern France the type of criminal activity being exported from Italy has changed. Gangland-style murders have replaced purse snatchings. Contraband routes that once smuggled cheap cigarettes and olive oil are now transporting heroin and cocaine. Banks in Marseille, Avignon and Monaco have been involved in money laundering as a source of lucrative profits, a French Parliamentary study alleges. The country was shocked when a vocal opponent of the Mafia, French parliamentarian Yann Piat, was shot to death in her car in February. She had gained prominence for denouncing links between organized crime, property purchases and politics on the Riviera.

Before he was assassinated two years ago by a Mafia bomb, Italian Prosecutor Giovanni Falcone predicted that organized crime syndicates were "going to become the biggest beneficiaries of a free Europe." "There will be no frontiers for crime, and there should be no frontiers for justice," he said. He called on his counterparts throughout Europe to organize an information network on organized crime before the syndicates spread throughout Europe by investing their money into legitimate businesses.

At the recent Group of Seven summit in Naples, the leaders of the major industrial democracies of the world discussed efforts to fight organized crime. Experts at the conference said that the volume of laundered drug money in Europe and North America has surpassed one trillion dollars.

The United Nations is sponsoring a conference this October on how to coordinate the fight against organized crime and how laws can be harmonized to fight against its spread.

Some believe that the fight is already lost. "It's almost impossible to stop the spread of organized crime once these groups recycle criminal profits into legal activities," said Liliana Ferraro, Falcone's successor. "You can't fight them in the courts, and you can't fight public opinion among those who need jobs."

French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur has embraced the idea of a European agency to fight organized crime. For the first time, criminal justice enforcement will join forces with laboratory technicians and banking specialists to combat organized crime across Europe.

Nevertheless, Italian officials are skeptical about France's ability to succeed until they adopt harsh measures similar to those used by the Italians. Italy has sacrificed certain civil liberties to carry out extensive wire tapping, coerce testimony from informants given new identities, and impose harsh prison sentences.